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As we journey along, let us break into song,
Will it always be so ? in your blindness and woe
O wander no more! I am here as before,
SKETCHES FROM HUNGARIAN HISTORY.
BY THE AUTHOR OF COURAGE AND COWARDS ;' “iVox,' &c.
THE MONGOL INVASION.
A. D. 1235 TO A. D. 1241.
Bela IV. was crowned at Stuhlweissenburg,* immediately on the death of his father ; and, after the ceremony, rode through the streets of the town with S. Stephen's crown on his head, to exhibit himself to the people. His horizon was, to say the least of it, not a very bright one; and even during the transient gleam of sunshine caused by the coronation festivities, he could hardly forget the dark clouds looming in the distance. The scene was gay enough externally, but there were fierce dark looks of resentment on many a face, which boded little good to the young King, and seemed to warn him that his father's sins and his own mistakes were all to be visited on his own head.
Things in general could scarcely have looked more gloomy. The treasury was empty; the highest offices of state were held by unworthy and mercenary men; the Magnates were so overbearing and so taken up with their own private interests, as to have no thought for the fatherland; and the lower nobility were exhausting their strength in fruitless struggles with the Magnates; while the people had been so down-trodden as to lose the independence of character and public spirit which are the great guarantees for a nation's welfare. Add to this, that Béla himself was unpopular on account of his severe measures, and the picture is dark enough. On the other hand, he was in the flower of his age, had had ten years experience in the art of governing, and possessed great natural qualities which only needed training and moderating to be invaluable.
One of his first acts was to bring to justice those who had fomented the misunderstandings between himself and his father ; his next was to take measures for raising the dignity of the throne from the depths to which of late years it had sunk. Among other decrees he issued one commanding that only Bishops, and the highest officers of state, should be permitted to sit in the royal presence, and that the chairs of the other nobles should be burnt. Further, no one was to be allowed to plead his cause in person before the King. These measures, together with the confiscation of all State property, whether in the possession of ecclesiastics or laymen, excited great displeasure among all the upper classes ; whose vexation was still greater when they found it impossible to stir up strife
* He had been previously crowned a. D. 1217, before the departure of András for the Holy Land.
between the King and his brother. Kálmán had borne the sword before Béla on the coronation day, and continued to wield it faithfully in his service till the day of his death. One fertile source of trouble to the country was therefore happily removed ; but the malcontents, in their selfish folly, finding they could not humble the King through his brother, turned to Friedrich of Austria, promising to meet him with an army on the frontiers, and place the crown on his head. Nothing loth, Friedrich obeyed the summons; but the plot had been discovered, the ring-leaders secured, and when he reached the place of rendez-vous, he found himself confronted by the King and his brother at the head of an army which pursued him to the walls of Vienna, and obliged him to buy peace on Ilungarian terms--a disgrace which Friedrich neither forgot nor forgave.
Shortly after this, Béla was urgently entreated by Pope Gregory IX. to assist in maintaining Baldwin II. on his tottering throne; and, for that purpose, to attack the Bulgarian King Asan, who, besides having entered into an alliance with the Emperor of Nicæa * against the Latin Empire, had yet more grievously offended the Pope by returning to the Greek Church.
Béla did not enter with much zest into the affair, even though he extorted from Pope and Emperor a promise that they would renounce in his favour all claims to the sovereignty of Bulgaria, should he succeed in dethroning King Asan. There were home affairs of more pressing importance; and Béla, after making a few preparations, abandoned a project which he seems never seriously to have entertained, in favour of one much more singular and romantic, so romantic indeed that it sounds more like a passage from the Arabian Nights, than matter-of-fact history
From ancient chronicles † (now unhappily lost,) the brothers of St. Dominic had learnt that, when the seven Magyar tribes emigrated from the old fatherland, part of the nation had remained behind. The Dominicans were zealous missionaries, and it so griered them to think that their fellow countrymen were still living in the darkness of heathenism, that in the reign of András II. (Béla's father, they despatched four of the brethren to Asia in quest of the old mother country. Three years long did they wander about, enduring all manner of dangers and hardships, till one of their number, Otto, who was travelling as a merchant, met a few men who spoke the Magyar tongue, and informed him where he would find the old home of the Magyars. Delighted with his success, he at once turned his steps homewards, in order that he might make the discovery known, and also procure some companions. But he had scarcely reached Hungary and related his discoveries, when he died from the effects of the great hardships he had undergone. The Dominicans, however, by no means abandoned their * John Dukas Vatazes, successor of Theodore Lascaris.
† Fessler an:) Jókai Mór. VOL. 7.
project, and early in King Béla's reign, proposed again to send out four missionaries. Hungary was but thinly peopled; and Béla, anxious to induce any kindred tribes to come and settle in it, gladly promised to furnish the cost of the expedition.
The four monks set out by way of Constantinople, and crossed to the eastern shore of the Black Sea, where dwelt a strange people, calling themselves Christian, and having indeed priests and prayers of the Greek Church, but living under the rule of a prince with a hundred wives. After wandering for thirteen days in the Caucasus, they reached the land of the Alani, where each little district had its independent prince. For fear of the neighbouring Tatars, they remained here six months, and were supported by the labours of one of their number, who was skilful in making wooden utensils.
At sight of the wild people and endless forests, two of the little band lost all courage to proceed further, and turned back to Hungary. The other two, Bernard and Julian, attached themselves to a caravan of merchants, and set off to discover, if possible, the unknown route by which Almos had led his seven tribes four centuries and a half before.
They found the sudden appearance of the proud Magyar warriors had not been forgotten. It was commemorated in many a dark legend and oral tradition ; but whence they had come, and whither they had gone, no one knew. The caravan travelled on through lands inhabited by wild strange people, through wide deserts, through pathless forests; and on emerging from these, they found themselves before large towns of whose existence they had never before heard or dreamt. The inhabitants, who were Mahometan, gave them alms, but refused to allow them to come within their walls. The caravan had reached its destination, and they must now wander on alone, and as it seemed friendless ; but at the next town their reception was more friendly, and one Mahometan even received them into his house. Bernard, however, had suffered so much from the wanderings and privations of the long journey, that he sank down and died, leaving Julian in a strange land, among strange people, to prosecute the almost hopeless search alone. Still he never gave up the hope that it would ultimately be successful, and, entering the service of a Mahometan priest, he continued his lonely wandering through Great Bulgaria. One evening, worn and weary, he stopped to rest by a well, before the gate of a large town; and having for a time watched in silence the women who were gathered there, with their tall earthen pitchers on their heads, he presently ventured to address one of them whose countenance was the most friendly and pleasing.
To bis joy and astonishment, she understood him, and answered in his own language, Hungarian as pure as his own. Her werds fell upon the poor monk's ear, with a sound as soothing as that of water in the desert; and he hastened to inquire whence she had come.
* From far off,' answered the woman; 'beyond the white mountains from which flows the great blue river, lies the great land of the Magyars, confined by no boundaries, and inhabited by a great and powerful nation.' The Dominican blessed the woman, gave thanks to God, and set out again on his way; but he no longer felt hunger, thirst, or weariness ; his eyes were fixed upon the land to which he was daily drawing nearer, and the sweet sound of his mother tongue was always in his ear. On the twentieth day he reached Hungaria Magna, and there found the Magyars living just as they had done four hundred years before. They were pagans, but they worshipped one God, and were not idolaters. All their wealth consisted in their arms and horses ; they possessed neither bread nor slaves, lived on the flesh of horses and wild animals, drank mare'smilk and blood, and made no attempt at cultivating the land. By the old traditions they knew that part of their nation had emigrated, and they listened well pleased to all that Julian could tell them of their relations. Many a time had the neighbouring Tatars tried to drive them from their dwellings, but, having always been repulsed, had at last made an alliance with them. At this very time an ambassador of the Tatar Khan was staying with the Magyar chief, and being able to speak the Magyar, Kuman, Russian, and German languages, informed them that 'five days' journey thence was the Tatar army, ready to march westward, for a powerful nation had lately arisen on the confines of Tatary, which threatened to be dangerous both to Tatar and Magyar. This people,' he said, ' was the broad-faced, small-eyed, blood-thirsty Mongol nation, which had determined to march westward, subduing all before it, till it reached the end of the world.'
The old chief assembled his warriors to hear what the monk had to say to them ; and they listened with rapt attention while he told them of the new and powerful Hungary in Europe, of the glory of the Magyar nation, its renown, and its great kings. Their hearts throbbed when they heard him tell of the great battles, and they nodded their heads with satisfaction to think that their distant brethren had maintained the national reputation. When he announced the doctrines of the new Faith, a longing sigh rose from their hearts, as they thought how good it would be for the two nations to become one, to dwell in one land, and own one God and one king.'
The old chief beckoned Julian to him.
"Go back to your country,' said he to him, 'tell your brethren that evil times are at hand, for us and for them. It may be the approaching summer will sweep us from the earth. The danger, whatever it be, will find us prepared; may it be so also with them. We are the first who shall have to confront it; if it overpowers us, it will be your turn. You hare heard the words of the Tatar ambassador; do not forget them, for they are true. If in a few years time, no deadly misfortune has overwhelmed our brethren, then return hither, you and as many of your fellow countrymen as you will, to seek us ; but if the storm reaches your country, do not come hither, for it will not reach you till it has